Tlingit armor main content.

Tlingit armor

Part of Northwest Coast Hall.

Tllingit body arrmor

The Tlingit Indians are a prominent Native American group who still live in southeast Alaska. The armor of the 19th-century Tlingit is notable for its expert construction and expressive artistry.

The Tlingit body armor demonstrates a late-19th-century convergence of three cultures: the beautifully crafted armor is covered in Chinese coins the Tlingit received in trade from Boston sea merchants in exchange for sea otter pelts.

Suits of armor highlight the importance of war, art and trade in the lives of Northwest Coast peoples. Men wore armor in the intertribal warfare that raged through the region for plunder, slaves, or to avenge a wrong. The pervasive role of art can be seen in the protective helmets that are also superb sculptures. Northwest Coast Indians harvested large quantities of sea otter furs for trade with Yankee sea captains, who bartered them in China. The Chinese coins sewn on the armor at right reflect this trade.

Besides the carved wooden helmet that shielded the head and upper face, a suit of armor included a wooden collar to guard the lower face and neck. During battle, the warrior kept it in place by holding an attached leather loop between the teeth.

A vest of thick, hard leather or of wooden slats joined with sinew or cord protected the body. Effective against arrows and spears, the armor offered little protection from bullets, and it was abandoned soon after Europeans introduced firearms.